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Opinion

Where the real credit lies

SoVaNow.com / June 05, 2013
Dear Viewpoint:

Give credit where credit is due.

I have continued, week after week, to read letters and articles giving Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton credit for fixing the very elective schedule he messed up in the first place with this new seven-block schedule. As you are aware by now, the new schedule removed the opportunity for most of our students to participate in electives or it severely limited their elective choices. Let us all keep in mind that the new seven-block schedule also took from our students the opportunity to graduate with 32 credits down to 28. For students like my daughter, who actually like to take more academic classes (clearly she gets that from her dad), this eliminates that possibility for her. Not exactly in the best interest of the students. However, it does grant our teachers an additional 166 hours of administrative time each year. Based on a 7.5-hour school day, that’s 22 full days of planning time each school year. This is on top of the planning time they are already scheduled. That’s 22 full days, or 166 hours, less education our children are getting each year.

Yes, they are still getting in their core classes, but other classes such as Auto Body, Agriculture, Culinary Arts, Robotics, Speech and Drama, Photojournalism, and others can also teach valuable life skills. I can honestly say I gained more life skills and confidence during my years in choir and drama than I did in Algebra 2 and Physics. Each has its value and our students need both.

Based on Dr. Thornton’s information 75% of teachers supported this: via a survey. Interesting considering the 13 teachers, in varying schools, I spoke to not only never saw a survey — they most definitely did not support this schedule change. According to Dr. Thornton’s statistics, at least 9 of them should have been in favor of the change. It seems that while our teachers want more education for our children, our school board favors sleeping. (This is based on Dr. Thornton’s statements supporting the theory that middle and high schoolers need more sleep and thereby need to start school later each day. A theory disputed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, but what do they know.)

Back to electives. You’ve all seen the articles and letters regarding band and while, much to the chagrin of my oldest daughter, I am a freakishly active band parent it is important to remember that this was not the only program jeopardized.

The credit for fixing this issue, as best as it could be fixed, goes entirely to Kristy Somerville. Not only did she work, on her own time, to fix the issue at the high school level, she also was instrumental (pun intended) in fixing it at the middle school level as well. This is especially noteworthy since Miss Somerville will be leaving her position this summer and did not have to take the time to work on this issue.

Onto Project Based Learning. I am not against the concept of PBL, after all we parents did projects in school to enhance our learning. Okay it was grade school, but still we did them and they were fun. Only then it didn’t have a fancy name, it was just called school. Doing simple projects can enhance a learning experience, but projects are not meant to be weeks long or take the place of lectures, homework, or textbooks. In this case they have. I spent some time yesterday on the PBL hallway looking at all the arts and craft projects. They were everywhere. Granted they were very nice and creative, but demonstrated little in the way of core education.

This has been our youngest daughter’s first year with Project Based Learning and because her grades have slipped we have been eagerly awaiting her SOL scores. I normally could care less about SOL’s, but admittedly my curiosity got the best of me this year.

In fourth grade my daughter received a 427 for her math SOL. In 5th a 534. This year, after a year of PBL, her math SOL score: 373. I also found in interesting that, after receiving several awards last year including the top reading award as well the top reading award the year before, my daughter walked away this year without a single award. I asked about reading, since she’s always walking around with a book, and she told me she didn’t have time to take any of the AR tests. I will say I don’t know how accurate that is, but I did find it odd considering her previous performances. I also found it unusual given the overwhelming emphasis they put on reading during her elementary years.

I did meet with some of PBL teachers earlier this semester to discuss the down slope of my daughter’s grades this year. I watched them try to sell me a product, with much enthusiasm, that their eyes told me they just don’t believe in. At least not the way they are required to teach it. Not one of them said this out loud, in fact I would like Dr. Thornton to know they did their very best to sell it, but I’m not buying that swamp land either.

With the exception of a few, each and every educator I have met in Mecklenburg County over the years seems genuinely interested in educating our children. I applaud their stamina and dedication to our students. Especially giving the conditions in which they are being forced to work. Yearly changes to scheduling, changes in the length of school day and the school year. Every day math one year, Project Based Learning the next. Students are placed in categories now. They’re either a New Beginning student, Heroes student or Dual Enrollment student. Changes to janitorial services, and teacher reassignments, or as in the case at PVMS, just plain out firing and, of course, school closings. The list goes on. It’s a wonder our teachers and students aren’t experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I’m pretty sure I am.

Speaking of SOL’s, I would like to point out that today was our youngest son’s middle school awards ceremony. Earlier this week he was ill and missed his math SOL. Today my husband arrived, at 9:00 a.m., to watch my son receive his awards and play with his 8th grade band for the last time. Except our son wasn’t there. He was making up his SOL test. Did he really need to do it then? Could he not have taken the test at 10 a.m. when the awards were over or Monday afternoon? Was it really necessary to take him away from his last band concert with his friends for a test that could have been taken at a different time? Is this how our schools put the children first? Our son was so upset he almost broke down during the test and said he couldn’t concentrate, so he doubts he passed it. He did receive an apology for what happened, but it should never have happened in the first place.

I see many fingers pointing at Dr. Thornton for the rapid demise in Mecklenburg County’s educational standards, but again, let’s give credit where credit is due. Dr. Thornton can do nothing without the approval of our school board. Our school board deserves full credit for the mess that is our current system. This is where change needs to begin.

First we need to question if a person should even be on the school board when their spouse is employed by that school system. Do we really believe they are going to say “no” to the man who could simply fire said spouse the next day? Why aren’t we questioning the issue of Dr. Thornton’s wife being employed by the very company that took over the janitorial services for our schools? How is this not a conflict of interest? I’m told this same company owns the food service company that is now being looked at to replace our existing food service workers. Will that be ignored as well?

It’s time for each of us to look seriously at how our representatives are actually representing our children. If you’re not happy with it contact them (via School Board Clerk Mrs. Sharon Shuttleworth Mecklenburg County Public Schools Phone: (434) 738-6111 Fax: (434) 738-6679 email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)), let them know how you feel and vote them out next election. We can actually do something about our floundering school system and it only involves doing some research, deciding whether or not your happy with how you’re being represented and then showing up to vote.

It’s time to take our schools back.

Kimberly Mullins
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